What is pistou? It’s a French variation on pesto, that bright and fragrant basil sauce of Italy. You may be surprised to learn how the French serve this easy and infinitely adaptable 4-ingredient sauce. Read on for an irresistible warming winter recipe and try your hand at making pistou at home.
The main distinction between pistou (pronounced pee-stoo) from Provence and pesto from Genoa is that the French version is made without pine nuts. Pistou contains only fresh basil, garlic, olive oil, and hard cheese. Pistou is served cold as a garnish to a dish such as vegetable soup, or in this case, braised lamb, where it adds a bright note to a warming winter stew.
In the Provençal dialect, pistou means “pounded” as it is made in a mortar and pestle. We used a food processor in our recipe below, but feel free to make it by hand.
“The Provençal love to quarrel about soupe au pistou. Mainly, they’re squabbling about whose version is best.” – Paula Wolfert
Braised Lamb with Tarbais Beans & Pistou Recipe
This easy recipe for slow-cooked lamb with creamy white beans and fresh basil pistou is the ultimate comfort food.
- ½ pound French Coco Tarbais Beans, rinsed
- Water, as needed
- 5 ounces Ventrèche – French Pancetta, divided use
- 6 cloves garlic, divided use
- 6 sprigs parsley, divided use
- 5 sprigs thyme, divided use
- 2 bay leaves, divided use
- 1 teaspoon peppercorns
- ½ Boneless Lamb Shoulder, about 2 ½ – 3 pounds, trimmed and cut into 3” chunks
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 medium shallots, chopped
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
- 1½ tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 tablespoon anchovy paste
- 1 cup dry red wine
- 1 container Veal Demi-Glace
- 2 packed cups basil leaves
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- Place the beans in a non-reactive container and cover with water by several inches. Soak beans at room temperature overnight.
- Drain beans then place into a large heavy pot with 2 ounces of ventrèche, 2 cloves of garlic, 3 sprigs parsley, 2 sprigs of thyme, and 1 bay leaf. Tie the peppercorns into a double layer of cheesecloth and add to the pot. Cover bean mixture with water by a few inches and bring to a boil over medium-high then lower heat to maintain a bare simmer. Cook until beans are tender, about 45 minutes – 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, start the lamb. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Finely chop the remaining ventrèche and add to the Dutch oven; sauté until rendered and golden. Remove ventrèche with a slotted spoon and set aside. (You should have at least 2 tablespoons of rendered fat. If you don’t, add a bit of neutral oil.) Raise heat to medium-high.
- Season lamb pieces with salt and pepper. Brown the lamb on all sides, in batches as to not crowd the pot. Lamb should have a nice chestnut brown crust. Remove lamb to a bowl and set aside.
- Add shallots and carrot; sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Finely chop 2 garlic cloves and add to the pot, sauté about 1 minute more. Stir in tomato paste and anchovy paste and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes. Add red wine, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pot. Stir in demi-glace and 1 cup of water; add remaining parsley, thyme, and bay. Add lamb back to the pot along with any accumulated juices. Bring mixture to a boil then cover and lower heat to maintain a simmer. Braise until lamb is extremely tender, about 3½ hours.
- While the lamb is cooking, finish the beans and make the pistou. Drain beans and discard peppercorns, herbs, ventrèche, and garlic. Set aside.
- To the bowl of a food processor, add basil and remaining garlic; pulse to chop. With the motor running, drizzle in olive oil and continue blending until mixture is a pesto-like consistency. Stir in cheese, season with salt and pepper to taste then pulse a few more times to combine. Set pistou aside.
- When lamb is tender remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl and cover with foil. Strain the cooking liquid into another bowl through a fine-mesh strainer, pressing firmly on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids, transfer the liquid to a fat separator and discard the fat (you should have about 2 – 2½ cups of liquid). Pour the liquid back into the Dutch oven, add the beans and lamb. Taste sauce for seasoning; add salt and/or pepper, if needed. Gently cook over medium heat about 30 minutes more.
- Serve lamb, beans, and sauce with reserved ventrèche, a generous topping of pistou, and some crusty bread.
Let us know if you make this recipe! We love to hear about your cooking adventures.
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